The Journey Back to Running

Last weekend I ran a half marathon again. 13.1 miles. For fun.

The last race I ran was a full marathon (26.2) in September 2013 while Shelby was at the vet recovering from having her spleen out and we were waiting to hear the diagnosis (it was hemangiosarcoma).

But let’s backtrack a bit. The summer of 2013 was tough on both of us us. Shelby broke her leg. I lost my job. I was trying to re-train for a marathon that would hopefully re-qualify to me to get back to the Boston Marathon that I had completed in April of that year that ended with the bombs going off in a terrorist attack on our country. I had sought out a race that would give me an edge (downhill) and hopefully get me there. But when Shelby broke her leg, my training came to a halt. Despite having an entire summer off because I was out of work; my heart wasn’t in the training. I didn’t put in the miles or the speed work or anything I had done prior to get me to a qualifying time.

The weekend before I left for the race, Shelby had her emergency spleen-ectomy. I really didn’t want to leave town and run this race but her surgeon assured me Shelby was in good hands and safe at the ER vet. My friend went to sit with Shelby while I was away but obviously, my mind was no longer on this race.

I didn’t re-qualify. I didn’t give a shit. I finished but don’t remember the time. It was a miserable race.

I got home and got Shelby from the vet and started my new job. Shelby was fine from her surgery. Eating like a champ, being “Shelby”. The new job was amazing and I loved my new team. High on all that and thinking we dodged another bullet, I recall calling my mom and saying, it is all going to be okay.

Until I got the call that evening. Shelby has hemangiosarcoma. “She has – at most – 1 to 3 months to live. You can try chemo. It might extend up to 8 months”. – the vet told me.

From happy to hysterical tears – the kind where you cannot breathe – in minutes. And I had to put on a happy and normal face at work the next day. I could not bring drama or sadness into a new job. I had to go at this alone.

So I did. Shelby started chemo. I stopped running. She was my life and my focus for the next 8 months. We went to Santa Barbara one last time (deep down, I knew it would be the last). She was not feeling great. She was limping still and we hadn’t taken her leg off yet. So in a matter of 8 months, my dog started chemo, lost her leg, fought cancer and then we had to say goodbye. Everyone knows how the story ends.

And the runner in me … well I basically ran to not get fat. I ran to escape reality. I ran to feel something. But they weren’t good runs. They weren’t strategic runs. They were chaotic, and rushed and probably not safe for my body. I didn’t fuel for them. I didn’t stretch for them. I didn’t give a crap.

After Shelby died … I could not run. Weeks went by. I could spin because I forced myself to be with my friends but I was dialing it in. Then I started to run again (again for fitness not for fun). I would run to burn the calories I would eat. That was it.

But running – the one things I loved to do most – was no longer fun for me. It was heartbreaking. I would stop mid-run and literally lose my shit and not know how I was going to get home because I would be crying SO hard that I could not breathe.

Slowly, as my heart started to heal, I tried and tried to re-claim my life. I looked up half marathons to train for. I figured I had lost most of my distance fitness and I wanted to run a half and then maybe consider a full. I made spreadsheet after spreadsheet with training schedules. I quit them all. I had a half-dozen races picked out and none happened.

Last fall, I started at a new spin studio. I met a teacher / coach who immediately saw in me what I didn’t see in me anymore. That I was an athlete. I told him, I don’t race anymore. He said you could run a 3:25 full marathon. You have the strength and fitness. I laughed.

I went to him at the end of last year and said, can I do a 1:40 half marathon in 8 weeks? He said no. But in 6 months, maybe. The truth hurts. But he was right. So we started training. He gave me drills and I did them. He had me run a 5K, a 10K and hills and track and spin classes that were hard as F. He pushed me to limits I didn’t know I had. He rarely told me good job. He always told me go harder.

Going into Saturday’s race, I knew I wasn’t going to get my 1:40 so we adjusted the goal. He wanted to push the race back but I needed to do this race. To prove to myself this wasn’t another thing I didn’t complete. There was a lot riding on this race that he didn’t even know. Even I didn’t know it at the time. It wasn’t about racing but about completing to get to the next journey of my healing.

I ran a 1:50 half marathon. Not my best – not my worst – right in the middle. There will be weeks to figure out what went astray but I am 100% sure it was a mind over matter thing. It got hard and I couldn’t push past that. I learned a lot about me in this race.

Am I happy with my time? Not really.

Am I happy that I finished? Hell yeah!

Because this race took me over the hump. For me – to continue to dwell on what my life was in the past (pre-cancer), is for me to not let it go. And to fully let it go,  will allow me to fully realize my greatness and my potential. So last Saturday, I say goodbye to the pain. Goodbye to the past. Hello to the future. Shelby’s spirit is with me daily.

As I recover from the race and plan my next one … I am keenly focused on pushing through the tough. There will be bumps in the road but when push comes to shove, I need to push a little harder. In running, racing and in life. A lot of that requires me to “stop talking about the past” because by talking about it, I am still living it. It is a bold next step for me. Someone who likes to define anniversaries, milestones, past memories … but I need to push forward. Like training for a race, I am training my mindset to be open to the greatness that is to come.

No doubt about it … Shelby’s loss profoundly changed me but last week was a huge step in reclaiming a pastime that I used to love. I cannot wait to try again. I will see my 1:40 goal. I will run another marathon. And then … I will run Boston and there will be no drama at the end.

Because I am physically and emotionally stronger than I was six months ago. Because in the end … I will allow myself to feel and receive greatness. Because living life the fullest is all there is. And our spirit / angels are always with us … so for sweet Shelby … I love you to the moon and back and for all infinity!

Mother’s Love!
Baby Shelby!
Love that face … love those ears!
We loved to cuddle before work!
Just a pup and her alligator!
The long road home …


Author: mom2shelby

Mom to 13 year old Shelby - Jack Russell/Shiba Inu mix. A rescue dog that was born in New Orleans. Shelby is a spirited, smart and happy little dog who loves to run, play, go to the beach (we live in LA) and ride in the car! She is my best friend and the true love of my life!

2 thoughts on “The Journey Back to Running”

  1. You have come a long way on your journey Alison. We don’t forgot those anniversaries we just move on not posting about them as much and doing more quiet internal things as memories.
    I know the bigger ones the yearly I post about just because I want to remember my girl more in the public 🙂

    You will beat and exceed your goal I know you will and Shelby will be there guiding you on

    Michelle & Angel Sassy

  2. Well done friend Alison! Life is not a sprint it is a marathon run. Always fill it with things that make you happy!

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